Thursday, June 27, 2013

Flying bikes and pedal powered planes

About two weeks ago, news about ingenious Czechs inventing a flying bicycle spread around the internet and couple of my friends have forwarded me links to the video of the maiden flight. I watched the video of the radio-controlled 180lb machine making a short flight inside a hall and since then, I haven't been able to stop thinking about flying and bicycles.

I used to fly gliders for almost 20 years (and hang-gliders for a few years) before switching 100% to bicycling, so I understand the human desire to fly instead of moving slowly in the dust of the Earth's surface, or at least pedaling a bike and go fast who knows where. So from that standpoint, a flying bicycle sounds like a great idea. Invented by the darn Czechs... but wait a sec, haven't people flown by pedal power before? Plus, this Czech "invention" is not pedal powered, it flies on batteries and electric motors!
So let's remind ourselves about who flew by pedal power first: Bryan Allen pedaling the Gossamer Condor (constructed by Paul McCready) on August 23rd, 1977, thus winning the Kremer prize.
Two years later, June 12, 1979 Gossamer Albatross completed a successful crossing of the English Channel to win the second Kremer prize:

Of course, these flying machines could hardly be called flying bikes, they were high-tech ultralight aircraft. Let's go back to the Czech flying bike: it is called Jan Tleskac. This is a name from popular books and comics by Jaroslav Foglar. His most famous books were a trilogy about a group of boys, who called themselves Rychle Sipy (Rapid Arrows). You would have to read the books forty years ago to immerse yourself into the drama of Rychle Sipy's search for a mysterious puzzle (Jezek v kleci) which had plans for a flying bicycle hidden inside, while running into all kinds of trouble with a very secretive society of Vonts, who had lived secluded in Stinadla (an ominously sounding part of town). The flying bike plans once belonged to an apprentice named Jan Tleskac, who was the first (although fictitious) person to invent a flying bike. He also designed the puzzle as a safe place for his plans, it was extremely difficult to get the hedgehog out of its cage. Jan Tleskac knew to be afraid, his boss was after his IP, eventually killed him, but was not able to solve the puzzle in time, since the Vonts were closing in. In a chase inside Stinadla catacombs, the puzzle was lost for a long time, until Rychle Sipy got a hold of it.

I recall the passage from the book, when Jan Tleskac goes for a test ride / flight at night, after many failed attempts to fly his bike. I may be incorrect after 40 years, but the crux of the story was that he attached wings, gearing and a propeller to his regular commuter bike, rode his bike as fast as he could on a road, to the point where the wings got enough lift for the bike to start losing tire traction, then he switched gears from wheels to the propeller shaft and flew! I guess that smart engineers have calculated the power needed for something like that and it is most likely not possible, but you might have noticed that Gossamer Albatross took off from a downward sloping rail, that got the aircraft moving while at the same time, the pilot generated enough propeller thrust by pedaling. I like this concept a lot more than a bike frame attached to four rotors. It could as well be a couch, not a bike. If I let my non-engineering imagination wander, I could see a bike like Jan Tleskac's, but instead of large wings, my flying bike would be a gyro (gyrocopter, an aircraft with a rotating wing), so the airlift would be created by forward motion of the bike, first by riding on the ground, then by switching to a propeller.

I better hurry up to a patent office or Kickstarter, since there is already this:

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